The Democracy Debate: Darling or Devil?

Who comes 2 your mind first?

 PREFACE                           

Does it ring any bells? It would, I guess, for the most of us!                            

We talk so much about democracy. We believe in it. We stand by it. We invoke its principles when arguing about “rights”, “freedom”, “governance”, “leadership”, “justice” and what not.  For a lot of us it’s almost a religion, a belief! But just like religion, the idea of democracy almost always goes unquestioned. We never rattle the ageless granny’s  feet  and ask what’s so charming about her, why she clicks, or why some people say bad, bad things about her, why yet some treat her as a worthless concubine, good only for one thing.  She’s just our dear granny who’s always been around and we are so used to her charms and illnesses that, subconsciously, we’ve accepted them as a part of her. There seems to be nothing  much left to question.                                

As philosopher Daniel Dennett would say, most of us just believe in belief rather than believe first hand.                                   

For a change, unlike religion that I ‘ve royally ranted about in the past, I fully stand by Democracy.  It’s a first hand belief.  But ‘m still going to put it on the dissection table under the knife of rational strutiny!  I admit, I might prove  as much of an expert on democracy as would Paris Hilton on flying space shuttles. But after much introspection, I am going to give it a go.                                

What we usually don’t question is what we usually take for granted. And what we usually take for granted is what we usually don’t look outside of. Some lucky ones do get the chance though, sometimes unwillingly or even undeservingly.  As did one of my dear friends recently ( willingly and deservingly though!) whose usually jet-setting between the Middle Eastern arab countries. Mesmerized by the wealth brought upon itself by the blessing of the unending abyss in its oil wells, my friend came back pretty impressed by the monarchy of Saudi Arabia (he hates the gulf’s airlines though as they reek of labour class gentry!) and  made a case against democracy that it is inefficient and hypocritical.  He would rather have us dispensed with it.                                   

There was a point. Look at countries like China, South Korea, Mexico, the gulf countries. They started the race with us, each of us with our bowls in our outstretched hand, yet they are much more prosperous now, or much safer, or much more organised and much more livable, or a mix of these qualities, at least by the looks of them. There’s something common in all of them. Neither of them are proper democracies and never were.                               

India, although, champions the democratic principles in a much more religious way. What are we missing? Before I delve into democracy, I want to set the stage and the props.     

    SYSTEMS THINKING                         

I believe that society is a complex arena and a lot of us fall victim to our simplistic thinking. It’s always good vs bad, moral vs immoral, right vs wrong, black vs white. As we are becoming ever more cognizant of the  inherent uncertainties of nature, and the intrinsic irrationality that suffuses from human free will, we are starting to realize that digital thinking is not what we need. We need a much more weighted approach which is introspective as well as empirical.                               

To give you an example of what I just said, I am going to tell you about a little local-train journey that I remember. With me was friend of mine who had just joined a prestigious bank after earning a prestigious masters degree from a prestigious B school and I was leaving her back to her 5 star hotel accommodation that her company had provided. We were discussing about her recent  trip to China, the hitherto autocratic communist superpower, and I was curiously  listening to her fresh insights & observations and the things that  people talk about when they come back from their first trip abroad. Winding down the labyrinth of our talks, we came down to the point of what was wrong with our country. What were we missing on? I said people have to become more sensitized to the democratic process. It’s because we take our freedom as our birthright, as if it should be served to us on a golden platter everyday by god himself, and ignore our responsibilities like a huffing dog on the street while we are licking the ‘free’dom off our fingers. I asked her how many of us thought twice before buying a packet of biscuits on a local station, demanding a plastic bag to carry the stuff to our friends and in less than a minute, nonchalantly throwing the bag off to the tracks. I qusetioned why we couldn’t take the responsibility of keeping our own cities clean. Her answer, which was delivered in a serious and concerned tone,  blew me away; she said if we did that, the economy would crumble. A million sweepers would become jobless!                               

Aaaaah.. the B schools! So basically, the statement translates to:                               

We should have crime, else police will become jobless.                               

We should have disease and suffering, else doctors and the entire drug industry will become jobless.                               

We should have stupidity & immorality, else the motivational speakers and the new age spiritual gurus will become jobless.                               

Yeah! We should have all of them together, else god will become jobless!!                               

It was an obviously bogus answer. You would be wondering what my reply was. Well, I was dumbstruck! I knew it was a flawed argument but it didn’t strike me immediately, why exactly. On my way back I mulled hard over the question.   I was cursing my wits that I couldnt reply to her immediately.  None of the BMC workers who clean our gutters live beyond fifty, yet argumentatively, he would anyway die of hunger if I didn’t pee on the road! It was a stupid dilemma and I knew for sure I was missing something.                               

But after an hour of hard thinking, I realised the fallacy.  Filth, crime, disease, stupidity and immorality are not just temporary fluctuations in a system waiting to settle down to stability. They are a part of nature. They are in its design, as are lightning and hurricanes,  and we can never completely get rid of them. We can, at best, just handle them. And handling is a process, which can be made ever more efficient. And in carrying out a process we need people! So nobody is becoming jobless.  Efficiency is a two-pronged drug, it protects and it cures. I felt elated to imagine the sweeper on railway stations in a protective suit and equipment, his job being to keep a not-so-dirty station sparkling clean instead of just keeping a filthy station out of a state that wouldn’t need bio-terrorists to make a massacre, and not becoming a social and economic burden to the nation by harbouring terminal illnesses.                               

I realized that democracy too wasnt immune to such natural problems, actually the very same ones stated above, and it needed much more than just simplistic thinking that my friend and I, for a while, fell victim to. I realized we, the people outside of academia and scholarly circle,  don’t reflect enough. We think we do but we don’t. I myself just reflect enough to realize that I don’t reflect enough.                               

Though ideologically democracy espouses the principles of freedom more than any other means of governance, it has also been its biggest impediment. Democracy has been criticised by many intellectuals over the ages. From Plato to Milton Friedman. Criticisms have been varied, the most important among them being irrationality of voters, inefficiency, political instability, short terms, mob rule, and popular rule only as a façade to mask the rule of the élite.                             

While I am not going to reinvent the wheel arguing about the boring pros and cons of democracy, I want to give this debate a new geometry. I want to go deeper into the whys behind the whys of intricate gears and levers of democracy. So I will attempt to show this whole complexity from a new angle from where things appear much clearer to me..                          

 THE LENS OF FREEDOM                          

Like I said earlier too, I have realized that the greatest impediment of democracy is the same principle that forms the bedrock of its whole philosophy; freedom. As shown in the cartoon above, we are awful with handling freedom. And that’s exactly the point of my debate; the evolution of freedom.                             

The concept of freedom is a very tricky one and relatively new to the human race. We have always been slaves. Slave to nature, slave to religion, slave to the society, slave to the king or the queen, slave to our so-called leaders, and most of all slave to the manifold of our own knotty psychology and consciousness. If anybody has noticed, free will isn’t really that free. And, as a species,  since we have spent so much of our evolutionary time being some or the other kind of slave, I contend that we are simply not psychology evolved to handle freedom. We find it difficult to steer ourselves through a maze of choices. Now, I am not saying that freedom is synonymous with choices but just to make a point, everybody has faced a dilemma with choice so its easier to relate to the topic this way.                             

What really is freedom by the way? I have never come across an absolute answer to this question. If you look in the dictionary for the word ‘freedom’ , you’ll find twenty different definitions and they all seem to be floating in a dimension of their own, only very seldom crossing each other at a common point. My only conclusion is that there is no absolute answer. And if there was to be one, it would be; There’s nothing like absolute freedom.                             

We have always been evolving towards greater freedom. We are more free than we ever were. The world now is full of choices, some of which were always there in a hypothetical space to which we didn’t ve’ access, and others which we have invented for ourselves. E.g. Women now call themselves liberated, in the sense that now they can decide their lives for themselves, earn their own living and spend it as they want, decide for themselves what they wear,  their career, their boyfriend (or girlfriend, lately!), their spouse, how they raise their children etc. They have an equal say in everything, at least according to the law. That’s a radically different picture compared to the world that was 50 years back. Still we don’t feel free, not very often do we?  That’s because freedom is not a close ended straight road to which we could all just say; See you at the last stop. Freedom is not something which will one day see itself reaching to some kind of a logical conclusion, when there’s no more freedom to be achieved and all the dilemmas are sorted out. I surmise that we will keep redefining freedom and rediscovering its meaning and form to no end.  When I say we dont feel free I mean we still feel the viscosity, the friction of the path of freedom on which we’ll forever keep walking.                             

Absolute freedom, an apparition which has been talked about for centuries by poets and philosophers alike, is in my opinion a paradoxical concept by its own definition, especially considered in relevance to our topic of debate. Consider this simple reasoning; Suppose the humanity has attained total, absolute freedom. That means I have the freedom to kill you and you have the freedom to live! So who among the two of us would you think is free?                     

 If you’re not convinced, I can go deeper on a metaphysical, philosophical level. Absolute freedom means ability to make a choice and act on it completely detached from the input, control, or otherwise influence of persons or society. That means if one claims to have attained absolute freedom, he claims to have detached his self from ‘causality’ i.e. he is no more influenced by causation nor is he the agent of causation to anyone else harbouring the power & privilege of absolute freedom. In such a case a sense of self would be lost since consciousness expresses itself as a memory of an ordered array of  events, with causes & effects providing for the ‘order’ element as cause always precedes the effect and events can then be recorded by the mind on a timeline. Impotent causes and uncaused action will simply add up to an incoherent memory and the loss of awareness of the any direction of time, hence of self.  To get a clearer picture of this, imagine a movie tape and imagine the information on that tape to be the whole of your life. Now suppose, any element of causation is removed from this movie, and the movie now is made of randomly jumbled 1-second frames as the linking element between the frames, causation, is now lost. Imagine playing this movie and watching it. Do you think it would make any sense? Earlier, the movie was a story, now its a mesh of crap. That’s what our consciousness would become if causality was totally eliminated from the world, and that’s exactly what absolute freedom entails for itself to manifest.  Hence for somebody having absolute freedom, the freedom would really be absolute but it wont be his. The whole concept of he and his would thaw into nothingness, so the freedom which we call absolute couldn’t be ascribed to a living, conscious entity anymore. It just means since his actions would be uncaused, they would be random, indeterminate and hence meaningless.  Absolute freedom not only does not exist, it cannot exist.                     

You must be wondering why I am drilling so deep into this ‘absolute freedom’ territory. Well, I am hunting for black gold which would come gushing out. My point here is that since absolute freedom does not exist. we have to question, keeping aside for a second our inescapable dependence on nature, what keeps us from reaching it. What keeps the check? Is it ingrained in the design of nature? Yes, I say; Its our Karma; Our reaction to causality ( from the fundamental level of which we are inescapable by the very design of nature), and the agent of further causation, resulting in an endless cycle. People take their democratic freedoms too much for granted and shoo away their responsibilities. It is utterly frustrating to read some rosy sounding philo-phony-sophers in the spiritual columns of newspapers saying that man’s ultimate goal is to attain absolute freedom. Agreed with the endless harp on freedom but what about its limitations? We don’t learn enough about them. Neither through school, nor through our leaders and gurus.                           

Purely from a system’s perspective, any system which is not absolute and operate under some laws, has to have its checks and balances. With all the parameters set properly within a body of laws, the system tends to be naturally stable as one parameter keeps a check on the other and vice-versa, like the classic example of crabs in a jar pulling the escapists down. Laws can be flexible but only to an extent. I see democracy as a fenced playground. Frolic as much as you will, but you’re not allowed to break the fence. You break the fence and a pack of howling wolves could barge in and devour you, as well as everyone else, alive. You could increase the playground area, but you would have to augment the fencing proportionately. So, like Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I would morph it to; with greater freedom comes greater responsibility since freedom is nothing but power to act to your own will. We can have as much freedom as we want, provided we are ready to handle the baggage of responsibilities that tends to balance our newfound freedom by tying us down in some way or the other.                         

THE HIROSHIMA                         

A radioactive uranium atom takes a hard stance on absolute freedom. It fissions into smaller atoms indeterministically, spontaneously, uncaused by any external agent, accompanied by a huge amount of energy ( for a single atom). Tinker with this freedom just a teeny-weeny bit  in a considerable mass (technically called the critical mass)  of uranium, and what you get are a thousand splendid suns. Right over your head! You get a Hiroshima!                         

In a democracy, freedom does not just mean being free to do what you want. It also means making yourself free and willing to take the full advantage and use to the fullest the rights and opportunities guaranteed by the government and the constitution. This second aspect of freedom requires us to break free of the shackles of ignorance, fear, misinformation, gullibility, herd mentality, groupism & narrative fallacies. I’ve borrowed the last term from Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan. Taleb shows how, in an attempt to make the world around us more and more predictable by consuming ever more information, we end up messing things so badly by trying to build a definite narrative around the information. What about the information that’s hidden, unseen or unknown? And there’s always a lot of it. Always! We have to ask ourselves how that changes the narrative, the story.                        

Since, as discussed earlier, all the cripples stated above are natural and given. We will always have irrational voters with impressionable minds, especially in the wake of factors like poverty and religious sentiments. There’s no dearth of incompetent leaders either.  What do we do then? Before attempting to answer that, I must say that while thinking along these lines I ve been mighty impressed by Taleb’s ideas and philosophy. He propones the philosophy of empirical skepticism. Being a trader and playing dodgeball in a highly unpredictable world of free markets, he has made himself a lifelong investigator of randomness (though I am not trying to make any comparison between social and economic randomness). He says; If you cannot avoid it, expect it. The question here is, who should be at the expecting end? The public or the political parties?                   

Irrational, misinformed, ill-informed and, especially, hungary voters jeopardize the democratic process. But a lot more dangerous can be the poisonous tree that sprouts from that little, apparently inconsequential (the “what difference does one vote make” mentality), malignant seed that such voters plant in the ballot box. Just like other natural occurences, there always are people who harbour a grotesque idea or a philosophy and don’t ever excuse themselves to think outside their little box. Till such people are contained within the masses, they’re harmless like the little radioactive uranium atoms I mentioned above.  But when we make them leaders, accumulate around them a critical mass of followers and artificially trigger the would-have-been-spontaneous decay with the chant of “hail Hitler”, the chain reaction starts and BOOM! What you get is a Hiroshima! It’s just that instead of radioactivity, it’s the political, economic, intellectual and moral shit that persists for years from one such explosion. Half-baked notions of democracy in the minds of people further allow these so-called leaders to take the idea of freedom too seriously and too far, who get seduced by the goal of absolute freedom, but only for themselves ( And I have shown pretty well above that absolute freedom can never be personalized. Little Uranium atoms have absolute freedom but its impersonal and its expression; inconsequential).  They hijack democracy to express their  “democratic right” to propone and live their freakish whims, supported by a mass of hypnotized followers. Radical notions are infectious. With a mass following and a little wits, these leaders soon become dictators.                   

Coming back to the question I posed above; who should be at the expecting end?  Democracy is a form of governance that puts the least tax on exercise of free will but from it results a torrent of irrationality and stupidity on one hand and blatant rape of power on the other. Anyone who’s read Orwell would understand it better. Within the sphere of their roles, leaders definitely are important but within a system, I dont like to see them as more than our elected representatives. To distinguish them from the public would be to call them rulers instead of leaders. So I would say it should be the public. More interesting would now be to ask; Who should be at the end of public expectation? (Remember that we are talking of expectation in the sense of expecting what cannot be avoided, not expecting what we desire) The answer, unfortunately, is usually taken to be ‘the leader’ or ‘the ruling party’. So should we expect since indolence and corruption of our leaders cannot be avoided, we should expect it and see what can be done? No, just forget about the leader for a while. Since I just eliminated the leader, I would say it has to be the  public itself. The public has to be aware of its own debilitations and expect that it would be irrational, irresponsible and corrupt and then see what can be done.  The leader is nothing but our own extension. As the public, so its leaders. I like to think that once this happens, the leader part would largely get taken care of by itself.                  

SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?                   

I would very frankly say that I dont know.  Since it’s a utopian fantasy to have a society of perfectly moral and responsible citizens, its difficult to say what’s the way out. But as they say; “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you’re doomed if you don’t try”.  The step before the first step as a society would be to start thinking holistically. When we say a problem cannot be done away with, we only mean it cannot be done away with completely.             

Coming to the first step, I think it has to start with education, but not just formal education. Education has to be our cultural artifact, a lifelong process. The first objective of such education has to be to sensitize, not to teach. Teaching, to most people, is resonant with rote learning, a task, like learning the commandments of religion that are forever debatable and conveniently forgotten. Education on the other hand is something that one absorbs, mulls about and get effected by.              

I have often pondered over the dichotomy between the use of the word ‘our’ and ‘your’ in school textbooks. The latter is seldom used while being taught about civics or economics in school. ‘Our’ country, ‘our’ economy, ‘our’ environment, ‘our’ responsibilities! The word ‘our’, in my opinion, has been overused on the pretext of humility and to convey the thought that the sayer is not any different from the listener and not exempt from the same responsibilities.              

While all of the above ‘ours’ are definitely our’s, the word ‘our’ paints a different impression of its meaning when being taught.  The word ‘our’ becomes a sea of masses where ‘my‘ becomes an implicit, undermined and diminutive entity. Think of the phrase ‘my responsibility’. Where does that ‘my’ stand in a billion ‘ours’? I can hardly even see it. An ‘our’ devoid of ‘my’ is a  sum of a huge number of zeroes, a zero itself. ‘Your’ on the other hand singles out a person. It has a singular existence. It points very bluntly to you. That’s an example of the linguistics of the script of sensitization.            

I like to think of democracy as a complex machine, a robot maybe, with its remote control in our hands. Knowing that we are not psychologically evolved to handle freedom, to intuitively process information  and expecting we would make mistakes, what should be our mitigation plan? Well, we werent evolved to operate robots or other complex machines either! But we are damn good at using them. We are very careful with our expensive, fully automatic washing machines. We don’t run them like arcade games. Why? Because we realize their worth, they come with a user manual and we get a demo. We have to not just create a user manual of democracy but create a real good demo too to sensitize people, to make them realize not the worth but the pricelessness of ‘freedom’.  We also have to take care that this demo be interactive.            

Movies and TV campaigns are doing wonderfully at this but they are not interactive. I think this is a job that can be done to a magnificent level by schools! Today we are in a dire need of good role models, especially the children. Since academia is the one social institution that mulls the most over matters of sociology, morality & ethics, I think the rebuilding should start from there. I grew up disillusioned with my teachers as most of them were payed robots imparting knowledge, not education. Teaching, not educating. Teachers would ve’ to fill up the vacancies for role models before anyone else!            

Marching on, given all the sensitizing, we should still expect there’ll be people who still wont learn. Those who’ll still spit on the roads, fling the plastic bag out of the moving taxi, vote for the wrong guy and not give a damn about any of it. Or worse, those who will take democracy into their own hands like the Senas in Mumbai who can turn a vibrant cosmopolitan city into such a wretched, deplorable mess and trample on the freedom of freedom itself. What do we do now? We hedge our bets on those who do learn and let those who dont learn be the scapegoats, who tread the path of radicalism and make of themselves living examples of what not to be. Thats my personal philosophy; Its more important to know what not to do or what not to be. The rest is all experimentation, exploration and luck!            

Ultimately, for any of this to happen, the law has to be made almighty and its implementation much, much stricter. With people willing to be sensitized and learn, I hope we will see it happening in the future. There are examples to be hopeful; The women’s rights movement, legal stance on homosexuality, the pink chaddi campaign!            

I have to admit though, that change in a country like India will be gradual. One mistake our founding fathers made was to declare the country a democracy while keeping the economy under the autocratic government control. Economic liberalization has come very late to us. Journalist Fareed Zakaria, in his book The Future Of Freedom has argued that democracy works best in states that are constitutionally liberalized. He says democracy leavens better from liberalizing autocracies than regimes which mix election and authoritarianism. That explains China better I guess. Of course, we cannot expect 500 million hungry and hurt Indians to listen to reason. Sensitization does not work on someone hardened up to hunger and hatred.    

I think that from the government side, this would be the most important step. The economy has to be in concordance with democratic principles; Free markets governed by strict rule of law. Many governments have long feared free-markets for their assumed potential to create a dog-eat-dog world and subjugation of the poor and the under-privileged. I am no expert on the subject of free markets (who is, by the way?) but I support the contention of Steve Forbes, the CEO of Forbes Inc. that free markets are governed by the Invisible Hand of demand & supply which bring millions of human beings around the world together into a network of mutual cooperation as parts of the supply chain without any need of a central planner as brilliantly illustrated in the essay I, Pencil: My Family Tree by the educator and the thinker Leonard Read. Ultimately, it’s based on trust & freedom. Isn’t that what democracy is about? Forbes says if the government restricts itself to, and take very seriously, the task of  playing a watchdog, making sure that everybody plays fair, watch out for financial bubbles like those in the 2007-08 crash ( the first hand responsibility of which Forbes puts on the US government for excessive printing of currency and fostering an environment where greed was natural to run wild), not indulge in too much of artificial tinkering within the economy, any disparities created within the economy eventually soothes out and the system is self-equilibrating. My point here is that the dose of socialism, which probably was needed during the poverty ridden conditions of the time of independence, has gone on too long and has only bred corruption, within the government itself,  more than anything else. Let the citizens be the owners of the enterprise of nation building, let them be the primary stakeholders, let them share the risk, let them capitalize on that or let them fail and learn. Let the real democracy have its day in the sun!   

THE VISION      

 Letting bygones be bygones, the only way is to look forward. The legendary Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli had argued on a cyclical theory of government where monarchies always decay into aristocracies, that then decay into democracies, which decay into anarchy, then tyranny, then monarchy. Left to its own devices, I guess this is probably how it would be, the gleaming example being Pakistan as it keeps vacillating between dictatorship and something resembling democracy. But today I would rather see democracy as in a process of evolution. Both human and societal.   

Evolution is irreversible and is self-optimizing. Thanks to the information revolution, it’s not the same playing field anymore. We have as much information at our disposal as we want. Citizens can now take informed decisions, only they are not used to it. Globalization has further changed the scene. It has become the normalizing factor which maintains the equilibria of common denominators of the most popular ideas of humanity. Technology has already drastically altered the ideas of freedom of speech and the expression of ideas themselves. What more could prove that fact more than that you’re reading this blog.  It’s still a mayhem but citizens, the common man, today has more power than he ever did. That fact cannot be contested.

The vision of democracy that I like to have is that of a not-so-near future. And a rather cheeky one, if I may opine. I would divine that two to three hundred years hence, the forms of governance that have existed till now would become fossilized. The world would become one giant, global organism with states and economies just being the organs. Technology is bound to play a huge role and not just in digitizing the voting process ( that is not even more than a decade away in advanced countries!) but in governance itself. The cripples of psychological evolution of freedom within human mind shall be done away with by the hyper-advanced networks of artificial intelligence that would exist then. Those who want to jump the gun and shout we’ll become slaves of technology and that history repeats itself, I would want to assure them that humans would have done much thinking after having watched the movie I-Robot! Well, I am no soothsayer but I’d like to believe it would be a symbiotic relation between man and technology. I am skeptical of how different both these terms will remain! 

There are two other major things I still am skeptical about in this audacious future of mine. One is the evolution of justice. Second is whether I’ll be remembered as a great thinker of the past or forgotten as a drunk, delusioned blogwriter. But well, you are not forgotten as anything. You’re just forgotten. The second one really bothers me!

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Restless Souls

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Crashing tides on a withering base
But never the one to humor a rest
They float in an ethereal hyperspace
Restless souls on a desultory quest

Crashing tides buffeting at the pier
A solitary bench lilts tales of despair
Of tired souls that sought a minute or two
Of silent reflection and then set sail anew

Crashing tides sucked him in
Into torrid rains in choppy seas
He always took it on the chin
And came out of swirling vortices

He followed the wind on barefoot soles
Through scorching deserts of obscurity
Through towering mountains of lofty goals
Seeking the shores of surety

Weathering tempests of a restless mind
He labored the earthly clockwork grind
Piecemeal he tessellated his lofty goals
The picture still didn’t quite seem whole

At the heaven’s door, the sages opined
All you are is your virtues and your sins
But with the good and the bad all intertwined
The ultimate arbiter was hard to convince

The tired soul wondered if it’ll ever be liberated
From this gift of existence, so overstated
I seek absolution, I’ve been brought to heel
Just another cog in the evolutionary wheel

But the world keeps spinning, and time flies
As crashing tides roar under the Brooklyn skies
Another lease of life, the restless soul does find
With the unceasing jangle of the sleepless mind

The Mighty Wheels of Life

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Get me out’a here, o’ mighty wheels of life
I can’t stand to bear one more aw of pity
‘Aw how long since you’ve been here?’
I feel heavier than eternity

Visitors chime the same old rhyme
‘Hey old friend, how have you been’?
Well I’ve been stuck here for quite sometime
And that damned tunnel is all I’ve seen

At the end of that tunnel there’s light, they say
Like you’d only see in your wildest dream
I know, I know, I’ve got dragons to slay
I wish you could just get me some steam

I dream of seeing the wave of green again
When I’d chug and chuff with a frisky surge
And dash into the horizon on two metallic veins
Straining to see where the twain converge

But here I sit in a battle with time and age
Wondering how long I might last
Like the last mammoth in its wretched cage
Forgotten artifact of a mythical past

I had places to go, I had things to see
But this now maybe my grim fate
Nobody out there watching out for me
And nobody getting late…

A Justifiable God: A Philosophical Case against Absolute Morality

Introduction

Is something good because god likes it, or god likes it because it’s good? This is a two thousand four hundred year old question from what recorded history can tell us. Before there was genius, and before there was folly, there was a question. The very ability to question and to seek answers to questions has been the hallmark of a conscious intelligence. Any genius or any folly of the human mind can ultimately be framed as an attempted answer to a question someone posited to himself, or the humanity at large, at some point in human history.

Steve Harvey, a hugely popular radio show host in America and author of a bestselling book that’s now the title of a recently famous comedy movie ‘Act Like a Lady, Think like a Man’ has a zealously religious view of morality. His advice to women on how to weed out potential monster-mates is thus; “You sitting up there talking to a dude and he tells you he’s an atheist, you need to pack it up and go home. You talking to a person who doesn’t believe in god… What’s his moral barometer? Where’s it at? ”. Harvey would sell his barometer not only to jilted women but to any unsuspecting buyer he finds on the road.

What could be our reply to Harvey? What’s your barometer? Your moral intuitions sharpened by millions of years of evolution, you might suggest? A person unacquainted with philosophical parlance might just use the term ‘common sense’.  But you can only have an imagined conversation because, being an ardent fan of a creationist god, Harvey wouldn’t hear a word against him and is dead serious against evolution; no comedy there. But I imagine Harvey retorting that common-sense and stupidity go hand-in-hand, and that it is just is a convenient  façade to justify whatever one wants to and has no grounding as anything can be argued one way or the other. While I wish to discuss this a bit later, I wonder if Harvey doesn’t even move a finger out of his own free-will or  from his sense of reason, without there being a divine hand in it? If reason, or common-sense, can equip him to not get himself killed in his day to day life, what prevents it from guiding him through the harder questions that he has to suddenly surrender to god? I wish to stress that I use Harvey only as a surrogate. At the end of the day, Harvey’s views represent the bubbling froth of questions that many, many people have in their minds: Where can morality possibly come from, if not from god?

For some people, especially those wearing Harvey’s barometer like a surgical implant in their brains, even allowing the possibility of there being a natural, or even a sub-supernatural source of morality, is akin to questioning the laws of nature.  There is no doubt that religious values are a great source of sustenance and comfort to many people in their testing times. But on a larger scale such kind of authoritarian morality, which was engendered by religion, has now evolved into social and communitarian absolutism. Divine injunctions have now mutated into social injunctions and the worst in god has found its earthly metamorphosis into self-appointed guardians of morality. A lot of sensible people, including me, find this to be extremely troubling.

Many would agree, summoning nothing more than their intuitions, that Harvey’s view presents an incredibly restricted (or ‘feigned’) source of morality and the question merits a much deeper and penetrating introspection than the traditional answer accords to it. To place an arbitrary supernatural authority as an arbitrator of something as subliminal as morality, and the answer to every moral question, is a ‘cop-out’ designed to evade rational inquiry.  Morality has to make some space for man’s free will, his faculty of thought and reason and his emotions and desires.  The importance of desire in morality and human life is not to be diminished. Economists have associated desire with ‘irrationality’ and moralists have typically considered it to be a dirty word. Bertrand Russel, one of the foremost intellects of 20th century, says that such a negative connotation of desire “is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful”. The edifice of Justice – the great leveller of plurality and the most basic binding force of human society – simply cannot be erected on an arbitrary and absolute code of morality. And I would go on to say that a justifiable god has to be a just god. And a justifiable god, being the ultimate Superman and the knower of every answer, has to be perfectly just.

Philosophy, which in Greek literally translates to ‘love of wisdom’,  began as a valiant quest for answers to the unknown, and in many ways philosophy was to science what ape is to man.  A common grouse with philosophy is that it considers every whimsical thought to be worthy of contemplation.  There are no waste-paper baskets. Who’s to say where this freewheeling license to question everything might take you? What if it’s only logical conclusion is a nihilistic, dog-eat-dog world? Indeed, Nietzsche’s genealogical, ‘might-is-right’ account of philosophy has found expression in Nazi and Fascist totalitarianism. Who’s to rescue us from this fatuous intellectual idiocy? It’s no wonder why the vagaries of reason have scared the bejesus out of some, and driven them to the hermitic stasis of faith.

But stasis cannot be an answer to the questions of justice. Justice has to take accounts not only of equitability, fairness and moral desert but also of facts and consequences. Such an account cannot be fashioned without a considerable amount of well-reasoned debate and deliberation. Our only weapon against intellectual idiocy is to fight its proponent on his own terms. While it’s true that the lust for supreme wisdom has bereft many a philosopher of those mundane wisps of everyday smartness known as common-sense, it is only amidst the noise of this senseless prattle that the music of real wisdom makes itself heard.  But what is to distinguish real wisdom anyway? Is there a transcendental, completely objective maxim of morality that’s not just non-arbitrary but also free of human stupidity?

This question takes us to the other end of the spectrum which deserves no more impunity from rational scrutiny than any other point of view.  Many, like the philosopher and popular author Ayn Rand, would have you believe that rationality alone, and by itself, is sufficiently equipped to provide clear and decisive answers to questions of morality and justice. Again, such a statement reeks of absolutism. After all, even ‘dogma’ in practice often goes contrary to the literal implications of the word. People adhering to strictly religious moral tenets do not believe that they have to dumb-freeze their minds to make room for such kind of absolute morality. Nor do all of them condone anyone benumbing one’s mind for anything. Instead there’s reasoning even behind such an unquestioning surrender to authority, albeit, most often (though, admittedly, not always) a reasoning that stinks. In some cases, reason – or rather, bad reasoning – can indeed be more dangerous than an assault rifle in a child’s hands.

In a series of essays I will try to skim the froth and attempt more substantial answers to these questions. This journey will be a gripping ride through history, philosophy and science, littered around with terrible terms for using which I apologize in advance. If it’s any solace to you, they terrorize me no less. So if you’re with me in this journey, trust me that I’ll try my best to play the minesweeper.

Escape from Plato’s Cave…

Some 2400 years ago in ancient Greece, the great philosopher Socrates (pronounced as So-kru-tis), awaited trail for impiety and corrupting minds of the youth.  Since it was for god to adjudicate upon the right and the wrong, the good and the evil, the virtuous and the sinful, to question or disobey the divine command was a sin for which Socrates was being tried.

This is the scene a day before the trial: Socrates encounters Euthyphro, a religious prophet who has brought his own father to the court with a charge of (involuntary) manslaughter.  Socrates, himself charged with impiety, is astonished by the diligence of Euthyphro and hopes to get some legal advice from Euthyphro for his own defence.

To defend himself, he must know from an expert what exactly piety means. He posits the question to Euthyphro and wants the definition to be in generalized form which can be universally agreed upon. Both of them agree to a definition: Pious is what all gods love(to avoid a conflict between different egomaniacal gods) . But Socrates raises a further simple question: Is the pious loved by gods because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?  Euthyphro at this point agrees that the gods like an action because it is pious. Socrates then delivers his checkmate here; How could ‘pious’ be defined as what gods love, if they love it because it’s pious? I’ll rephrase Euthyphro’s answer to make it easier on the ear: Pious is what gods love and it is pious because gods love it.  This is a cat chasing its own tail. No definition has been supplied. If he had instead said that gods only love what is pious, it would have brought us back to the question of what is piety. And it would have raised a further question; Would murder have been OK if god had liked it? If ‘good’ is simply what god commands then good can only be defined arbitrarily without any moral precepts. While if good is good because god wouldn’t command anything else then good is independent of god and god is just a messenger. So why not shoot the messenger and go straight to the good? There was no way out of this semantic trap and Euthyphro had to just walk away. The uncompromising Socrates was put to death the next day, a fate he boldly and nonchalantly accepted.

There is, in fact, a way out of this semantic trap. Even if we assume that good is independent of god, we can justifiably ask here, what if we are incapable of ever finding the absolute good, but god is not limited in such a way?  Then god is our guide and we trust god with his moral tenets. Though I’ll come to this point later, the factual historical anecdotes of ‘Sin’ morality, witch hunt, crusades and inquisitions, bride-burning, patriarchal and misogynistic mentality, and the general social division that religion has brought about throughout centuries  does little to prove this theory of piety.

Socrates might not have discovered the definition of piety in his lifetime, or the divine conception of good or moral, but he did start the ball rolling. The industry of rational scepticism that he had founded took this brave and magnanimous task upon itself, standing proud and steadfast like him through millennia, even in the face of death.

Plato, a pupil of Socrates, gives one of the earliest theories of Epistemology and Metaphysics. Ever wondered about the word ‘Platonic’ in the popular term ‘Platonic love’?  The ‘Platonic’ in Platonic love – the classical statement of which is that the most perfect kind of love in expressed not physically, but on a spiritual level – refers  to Plato’s theory of ‘Perfect Forms’, a deep rumination on the nature of ultimate, pristine, and transcendent reality, or in other words, metaphysical truths.

Plato distinguishes the ‘real’ world from the world of ‘perceptions’ as it comes across to us through our senses.  He calls the ‘real’ world the ‘realm of being’, where things just are in their pristine, quintessential essence, or forms, while the ‘perceptual’ world (or the everyday world as it appears to our senses) to him is the ‘realm of becoming’. The ‘real’ world or the ‘realm of being’, according to him must be pure, eternal and unchanging and he considers the knowledge of this world as the only true knowledge. This transcendental world contains the essence and character of everything objective and subjective, i.e., from essences of everyday objects to the answers of morality.

Plato illustrates the concept of the two realms through the famous Cave Analogy;   imagine you have been imprisoned all your life in a dark cave with your hands and feet shackled. The only ‘thing’ you’ve ever seen is the shadow of your captors. Then one day you’re let out into the open into the ‘real’ world of blinding light. At first you find it impossible to open your eyes but when you realize your whole world consisted only of shadows, you decide to take this epiphany to your fellow prisoners. Considering your revelation just another I-was-captured-by-a-UFO story, they dismiss you as a crank.

The cave above represents the constantly metamorphosing ‘realm of becoming’, while the outside world is the ‘realm of being’ which is a transcendental reality, ideal and eternal. As seen from the outside, Plato’s cave is a dark world of conjecture, deduction and illusion. In contrast, the world outside is the world of light, of real and perfect forms, or a world of Universals as Plato called it.  E.g. A tomato may appear red in the day and dark during dusk, a tree is tall or short only in relation to another tree but ‘redness’, and ‘tallness’ (or even tomato-ness), are Universals which are unchanging. For the sake of simplicity, we will call such a transcendental world as Platonia.

The question is: Is there such a transcendental world of absolutes? Is ‘redness’ really something rather than just a means to describe a particular sense perception, a wavelength of light? Is the tomato itself something, on a higher scale of existence, than just a bundle of sense perceptions of an arrangement of atoms that produces the shape, feel, taste, colour and smell of tomato. Is there a tomato-ness out there?

Again, all this might leave you repugnant and wondering why people –who call themselves philosophers- care for such useless discussions ad-infinitum and ad-absurdum, without a care for their family or a shave. The minutiae of such seemingly pointless debates actually often provide us excellent models for conceptual debates over practical matters. So if redness has a character of its own standing, can the same question be asked about ‘goodness’? Does ‘good’ has an essence of its own, an intrinsic ‘goodness’ in and by itself, or is it too a subjective means to describe the worth of an action within the context of which it is performed? Stealing might be a bad thing in Platonia, and indeed, bible forbids you to steal (Thou shalt not steal!), but how about stealing back your stolen goods from the thief? While there’s an agreement to the subjective notion of redness, even if redness is only a contrivance of the senses, is there a similar agreement to the subjective notion of good (if indeed  good is only subjectively defined)? In other words, is there an objective, absolute notion of good which everyone could easily agree on, and based on which right could be defined as a means to this end? After all, one could define ‘good’ in hedonistic terms as pleasure of the mind or of the senses, or as an intellectual objective to pursue knowledge and wisdom, or as religious service to god, or in utilitarian terms as some sort of desire fulfilment for the greatest number. These different definitions may not be mutually compatible with each other. Which way are we to bargain then?

The concept of an eternal, transcendental reality has played a dominant and recurring role in metaphysics. One of the greatest minds in this subject was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant lived during the late 18th century when the major schools of existential philosophy were rationalism, which held that criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive, and empiricism which held primacy of mind over anything external to it; reality being nothing more than an object of experience. Kant, among others, realized these two clashing views were not without severe difficulties. In one of the most seminal and complex works in philosophy, his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant attempts to reconcile these two views in an ambitious attempt to turn metaphysics into science.

Kant’s most brilliant and controversial insight in this direction was the claim that any valid metaphysical statement has to be what he called synthetic, a priori.  Terrifying words but simple concept; Kant was basically saying that any statement about reality has to be universal and informative. A priori (vs. a posteriori), which means a necessary truth independent of anything outside of itself, was the condition of universality. While synthetic (vs. analytic), which according to Kant meant that the subject and predicate of the statement should not be synonymous, was the condition of being informative. E.g. the statement that ‘all bodies are material’ is an a priori analytic statement i.e. it is not informative as the concept of ‘body’ is synonymous with materiality. On the other hand, the statement ‘all bodies are extended’ is an example of a synthetic a priori statement as ‘body’, which signifies materiality, is not synonymous with ‘extended’ which signifies spatiality. Notice that both statements are a priori which means they’re both necessary and universal truths. Up until Kant, there was no distinction between analytic and a priori, and synthetic and a posteriori.  Showing that a statement can be a priori and yet synthetic was Kant’s genius.

Kant found a rich source of such synthetic a priori judgements in pure mathematics. The statement ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight line’ is not a mere tautology like saying ‘A is A’. It’s not a pure logical necessity though it turns out to be the way it is, and you wouldn’t conceive of a mind experiencing it any differently. It tells you something fundamental about the world, a necessary truth. It is to be noted the parallel postulate is not strictly a priori (Kant acknowledges possibility of non-Euclidean geometries) but cannot help being assumed as such. Kant wanted to mould metaphysics and, inductively, morality into a set of such necessary and completely objective axioms.

On lines of Plato, Kant believed since mind invariably played the middleman in comprehending reality, the phenomenal world was a distortion. Thus, man’s concepts are only a delusion, but a collective delusion which no one has the power to escape. Thus pure reason is limited to studying things as they appear (as directly to the senses, or deductively, through scientific equipment) but does not guide us to deal with the fundamental issues of existence, which belong to the ‘noumenal’ world, his version of Platonia. It is the world of “real” reality, “superior” truth and “things in themselves” or “things as they are”—which means things as they are not perceived by man. Thus, like Plato, Kant too free-kicks our world up into a nebulous, empyrean abode unreachable to man.

Since a priori knowledge is hard to drill into beyond logical and mathematical truisms, how does Kant ladder up to the noumenal world? Kant contends that though a priori principles of the practical world cannot be acquired through empirical means, the conception of knowledge can be a priori. He divided such a priori conceptions into categories of understanding, like spatiality, temporality, substance and causality. These a priori concepts provide the form of all conception into which empirical knowledge fills in the content. E.g. Kant said space and time are a priori conceptions (rather than having a reality of their own) as they are ways in which mind converts sense-perception into knowledge. There is no perception or conception that is not in space and time. So when you see a cat in a room, you’re able to distinguish a cat in its substance and dimensions within a rhapsody of other sense perceptions at the same time .i.e. the synthetic unity of an object such as a cat is not lost among a cacophony of other inputs to your senses.

Though Platonia cannot be known directly, according to Kant these a priori forms of conception can nevertheless be applied to it. Kant called such an application of a priori conception as Practical reason. What does all this has to do with morality? Well, there are some interesting things-in-themselves hanging around somewhere in Platonia. These are consciousness and free-will. We can see the will only as it projects to us through the act of willing, we cannot see it or its machinery, which is inherently unknowable. As per Kant, a will has to be free for else there’d be no moral laws, but simply inclinations and desires. Since a will completely detached from causality is absurd, as it would make any logical conception from sense data impossible (like jumbled frames of a film as demonstrated in detail in my Democracy blog), a free will has to be acting under moral laws that it gives to itself. And if it’s acting under its own moral laws, these moral laws have to free of contingencies and hence universal and a priori themselves. From this reasoning Kant derives the first formulation of his Categorical Imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.

E.g. promises are meant to be kept for if promise breaking was to become universal and everyone started breaking promises, the whole premise of promise making would crumble as no one would trust anyone. Critics have alleged this is no different from what each of us was taught in kindergarten; that we should treat others as we’d like others to treat us. Twelve years of work and eight hundred pages later, Kant took us back to square one.  But what’s important here to note is that this is a duty based formulation which does not admit exceptions, for permitting exceptions would supposedly make the whole ivory tower come crashing down. For Kant, the only moral absolute could be a good will, or good intentions. Ends were relegated by Kant to an inferior status for they are invariably polluted with desires and hence would induce arbitrariness. Unflinching confirmation to his universal duty should be the only moral end for a man. Kant claimed to have found the mother of all morality.

Kant’s deontological ethics (duty based ethics) have been put to severe criticism for their premises, assumptions and the inadmissibility of exceptions. If lying is immoral, was it permissible to lie if a murderer came knocking at your door asking for its potential victim? If it’s bad to break promises, is it permissible to break my promise if I had promised you to pay back some money but I now know you’re going to buy a weapon to kill someone with that money?

We see that Kant had got us somewhere familiar, yet alien. Kant had inadvertently opened a back door to dogma. Though Platonia was unknowable to man through reason or experience, questions like why there is existence rather than non-existence, or whether there is a god cannot be discussed in the same vein as whether there is time or causality. The latter is distributive knowledge while the former is collective, and is by its design neither provable nor falsifiable. Such questions are to be decided by pure Practical reason (vs. pure theoretical reason), inductively (i.e. making generalizations from specifics) from empirical knowledge. God has to exist purely for its religious and moral import. Kant’s god, self-admittedly, is a being of necessity (need), rather than a necessary being (a priori, having no choice in non-existence). Being purely an intelligible entity, incapable of being experienced or proved, it must be non-spatial and non-temporal. It is not clear how a non-temporal god could be able to affect the world in any way. Any entity outside of time has to be eternal and unchanging and hence is causally impotent (i.e. it cannot cause anything without itself changing).  It seems Kant is only asking us to assume a god, merely for its usefulness.

There’s yet another set of criticisms from Ayn Rand’s objectivist clan. Rand, who swore Kant as her greatest enemy, alleged that the distinction between analytic and synthetic was cooked-up. Rand was completely antithetical to faith and had an infinite faith in reason. She believed there are no limits to knowledge and claims that the scientific method is unlimited in its potential for knowledge. She gives no credible proof of such an audacious claim though.

Faith in reason! That’s seems like an oxymoron. Does it mean anything? That’s something interesting to think about. Reasoning works by making logical deductions working with a set of axioms. What is to tell that the axioms themselves are justified? If the axioms can be justified only by another set of axioms (which is always the case in mathematics) what is to justify this other set of axioms? In other words, what is reason ultimately supported by? You might question why you ought to act in a certain way or why something is good, and to the answer you can raise a further set of whys recursively. Can it be finally reduced to a set of logically necessary propositions? If not then there has to be an element of faith in pure reason and reason itself has to be limited.

I think it’s clear here that such a logically necessary set of axioms, which would explain itself, has to be self-referential. I am not sure if Rand had ever heard of a mathematician called Kurt Gödel, one of the most important logicians of 20th century. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems states that no consistent set of axioms can be proved from within itself. Though actual proofs are mathematical, physicist Paul Davies gives an interesting descriptive exposition of this principle. Consider the statement: ‘This statement is false’. Can you prove it either way? If it’s false then it’s true as the statement itself says it’s false. If it’s false then it’s true as, again, the statement says. You might say it’s a fundamentally unanswerable statement. Then suppose that there was a computer named Mac which, its confident creators claimed, could give answer to the truth or falsity of any given proposition. Suppose it was given a statement: ‘Mac cannot prove this statement to be true’. Mac’s circuits blow up! If Mac answers it to be true, the statement would have been falsified. But if it is falsified, it cannot be true. Thus Mac cannot decide whether the statement is true from within itself when, in fact, it is true as Mac is unable to make any decision as the statement says. Hence, Gödel has proved there will always be certain true statements which cannot be proven to be true. Such undecidable propositions strike at the heart of mathematical and logical formalism.

I am equally unsure whether Rand had heard of Alan Turing, widely considered as the big-daddy of modern computing. Turing showed that it is logically impossible to have a general algorithm that would weed out such undecidable problems as above, without sampling them out. This was technically known as the Halting problem (whether a Turing Machine would halt when implementing such an algorithm) to which Turing gave the answer as a definite ‘no’. Hence self-referential systems are ultimately doomed to implode under the gravity of their own logical paradoxes when attempted to be explained.

You might ask of what import such trivial paradoxes are to important issues of morality. Well, they are of enormous importance as what that means is that there have to be certain arbitrary assumptions, however trivial. Morality cannot be constructed on purely logical grounds, not because of any shady philosophical reasons but because of limitations imposed by logic on itself. Turing’s results also have a momentous impact on the concept of free will, as it can be made compatible with determinism.

Free will has posed a major problem for moralists. If free will is taken to be completely uncaused then an act has no part of its origin in conscious volition. If free will is an illusion and is really completely and inevitably deterministic then, again, conscious volition has no role to play for an act was only an effect of natural laws working on previous causes. As common-sense individuals, we know free will as none of the above. But lately, unlike the Laplacian clockwork picture of a deterministic universe, there’s been some talk about deterministic free will. But how can free will be deterministic? Nassim Taleb in his bestselling book ‘Black Swan’ gives an example of indeterministic determinism. A game of billiards, where every successive set of ball collisions require increasingly complex set of computations to predict the state of balls until the problem becomes fundamentally incomputable by any conceivable computer, becomes fundamentally unpredictable though remaining strictly deterministic. On the other hand, cognitive scientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett in his book ‘Freedom Evolves’ takes the The Game of Life (check it out!), a zero-player cellular automata game where checkers-like cells on a checkerboard-like grid are allowed to evolve from an initial state under a simple set of rules, as an analogy for deterministic free will. ‘Life’ is used to simulate evolution and emergence of complex systems and was name Life because of strong resemblance of self-sustaining patterns to real life-forms. Life can even simulate a whole computer which makes it a universal Turing machine (capable of computing anything that can be algorithmically computed). Since the Life computer is not free of Turing’s uncomputability problem the fate of Life patterns cannot systematically be known in advance purely due to limits of logic, even though all such patterns are strictly deterministic.

A deterministic account of free will, in my opinion, is able to bridge the gap between causal determinacy and free choice reasonably well, and to ultimately give a practical model of how we actually experience free will, in that neither we’re complete slaves to inclinations and desires nor completely rational, being relatively free to ride in either of these two gear systems according to need. Hence, inclinations can be kept within such accounts without the loss of moral accountability. Moreover, while other accounts of free will might tell us why we ought to act in certain moral ways, they don’t give a clear picture of why we do in fact act in those ways on a statistically significant scale. Dennett’s account is an evolutionary one, so the facts of ways in which we exercise our free will finds natural explanations in principles of evolutionary psychology.

Dennett contends that practical free-will might just have been a result of evolution playing within such an incomputable, but deterministic arena. The evolution is towards avoidance of danger – like self-sustaining life-like patterns called “avoiders” are able to do in The Game of Life – and success in this endeavour is rewarded by sustenance and the opportunities to open doors to other freedoms. While there are no crouching tigers or hidden dragons to hide from anymore, the basic instinct to avoid danger and sustain life could have evolved on a much grander scale into a sense of morality, or the moral intuition. Hence, in this scheme, though at the root level we are still responding deterministically to the world around us, and hence accountable for our actions, this response is now through a much more subtle mechanism that affords us the convenience of freedom.

…Into Blinding Light

So we see that facts are our friends, not foes. There is no need to conjure theories that suit our modes of thinking, rather than providing a reliable explanation of reality and a guide to practical reason. Paradoxes similar to Gödel’s and Turing’s theorems exist even in higher socio-political literature like economist Kenneth Arrow’s impossibility theorem (no self-consistent set of voting methods) and Amartya Sen’s liberal paradox (no self-consistent set of liberal values) but I’d spare a discourse on these topics right now.

It might look like we just murdered reason but I beg to differ. Although we’d have to admit a minimal amount of subjective assumptions in any moral theory (until proven otherwise) it’s just given us an argument to be reasonable about outcomes of such theories and not take them as absolutes. We’ve just made a case for common-sense. Gödel’s and Turing’s results show us that though certain truths can be decided by common-sense reasoning (there being others which cannot), they still cannot be logically proven to be necessary, given, or a priori. Gottfried Leibniz, one of the most prolific mathematicians to ever live along with Issac Newton, and a theist himself, believed God has to be rational. Even god’s omnipotent magic wand cannot shake as much as a leaf on the tree of logic. A god cannot make one and one equal three, nor can he square a circle. If logic itself limits what can be known for sure, there’s little (read nothing) a god can do in this regard what a man cannot.

There are, of course, things that cannot even be decided through moral intuition or common-sense reasoning. Based on the differing ground assumptions, the moral theories may themselves lead to quite diverse ethical outcomes which might be logically irreconcilable. This is demonstrated by the famous ‘flute’ analogy: A flute is to be given to one of the three children; one poor who’s never had the chance to play a flute, other a flute player, and a third who’s made the flute. Whom should the flute be given to? An egalitarian may say it should go to the poor as she’s disadvantaged due to the arbitrary circumstance of being born to poor parents, a utilitarian may say the maximum utilization of flute can occur only in the hands of a flute player while the libertarian may say the one who’s made the flute should be entitled to the benefits of her labour. While there’s no way to immediately resolve this trichotomy one way or the other, a closer comparative scrutiny and a sustained deliberation of the need and desert of the three children is the only way to take any decisive and just action.

To conclude, if there are no moral absolutes and no non-arbitrary road to justice, there is no perfect justice and there is no justifiable god. Although replete with contradictions and limitations, our ability to reason is all what we have to take us further on the path of prosperity and happiness. Only a rigorous, sustained, multi-dimensional reasoning that respects these contradictions and limitations would be able to unite us as humanity.

Blaring Silence of The Night…

Do you hear the silence of the dark?
Those zombies of truth, naked and stark
On an alien planet, so bald and bare
With a murderous glint, at me they stare
As shadows march forth to conquer the world
Like Macedonian empire the darkness unfurls
As structures thaw and the fencing strips
The buried pains crawl out of their crypts
In an endless desert with nowhere to hide
A bloody Armageddon of the soul inside..
And all there’s left of the universe to face
Is the vain blankness of the infinite space
I lay there slain, begging for a chance
For another opportunity, for another romance
And the daylight thankfully does break again
Dousing me in the worldly strife and strain
In audacious fantasies of an unfading fame
With Michelangelo’s chisel I sculpt my name
Then as surely as two plus two is four
The shadows come knocking at my door
And as I wonder what’s the point of it all
The ivory tower starts to crumble and fall
And it’s the same unabating, endless fight
Against the blaring silence of the night…

 

 

 

 

 

In a sulky gloom the dark clouds loom 
with no silver line..
If there’s one, I wonder & Whine
Whats the colour of cloud nine!
Their bellies rumble and I fear my fate
But I keep going with a leap of faith
To rise above fear, to escape the bait
Hope the dark clouds don’t stay too late
Hope they soon precipitate…
 

The Sun said on a Sunset…

I am the first principle, the unmoved mover
From my being came the spirit and breath
Of nature and life’s every sly maneuver
I am the agent.. of survival and death

Your fiery talons, your blistering glare
Spare me the torment, you cursed Sun
And in my longings, you’re just not there
Leaving me cold, you toothless demon

Son, my love may be tough, but I mean no harm
After the din & dissonance of the day, I disarm
Into divine colours on the horizon I melt
A balmy end to the day you dealt

So why can’t this love stay forever the same??
Subtle as unset, Why take the blame??
Of banishing me to a lonesome night
Could you not save the last light??

Son, the faculties of change you must appreciate
From its motor came the grey and the new
The grey will soon wither to its fate
Leaving the reigns to you in lieu

Yes, evolution! of which much I’ve seen
Has only engineered a bickering machine
This hysteria, this commotion, is only a sign
Of your agency of mutation’s flawed design

Son, Change is all what is meant by the river of time
Yes, blindly it charges with no reason or rhyme
But amidst the string of your tirades I must stress
My love shines forever as bright, neither more nor less

Though, from this very love to life I bring
The wistful winters and the sprightly spring,
This changing of seasons, for all it’s worth
Is merely  shenanigans of your revolving earth

So my affection, my animosity, my whole darn attitude
Is only an illusion, a function of your own latitude
Behind the material mask of the world you’ll find
A unified consciousness that’s eternal and kind

As a night earned of jolly from a day toiled of trade
The trophy gleams a crystal sheen when a fortune you have paid
These moments of life deemed lost in the bickers and brawls
Blossomed into fortitude, when you stood up and took the calls

As to the first flood of your rays at dawn, the songbirds do accord
This ballad of wisdom, of light, with me does strike a harmonious chord
As this eternal waltz of dusk and dawns never gets you tired
The ugly brawls later only calls for crimson pheromones to get fired!!

My Dear Sun,
There’s a lesson here to learn
through my slurs and whims
With sunset colours the horizons burn
when your pride and temper dims
When you shed the ego and scan
through those transcendent eyes
You then see the cosmic plan
where the mystical garden lies…

A lesson of LIFE from Shrek

 

A hideous ogre! Ugly, monstrous, unworthy of Love.. so did Shrek think
Judged, ridiculed and withdrawn to a shell, he had had it to the brink

‘BEWARE.. OGRE!!!’ read his signpost, as lonelier he felt in a crowd
Resigned to himself without a fear or hope, of self-containment he was proud

Once, to reclaim the solitude of his swamp, a mighty battle he fought
What quirk of fate would next befall, no fortuneteller would have thought

In the highest room of the tallest tower of the fiery dragon’s keep
Waiting for true love’s first kiss lay one lovely princess asleep

To donkey’s charms layed the dragon her arms, for Shrek the princess fell
She could feel how he felt inside, ‘cos upon her she had an evil spell

But love couldn’t pierce the ego’s shield, as he had his own monsters to feed
So he relenquished true love and friendship, Princess Fiona, and the “noble steed”

A true pal that donkey was, yanked Shrek out of a psyche so marred
Like a true knight did Shrek fight, and saved Fiona from Lord Farquaad

There’s a cue to take here, there’s a lesson of life to learn
The battle hymn forbids us to turn our backs on what we most yearn

So we point a gun to our head, and like a tired circus clown
Keep dancing to the tune of the barrel, long after the curtain is down

Defiant doggedness or airy abandonment, when in this eternal tug of war
Remember; Being incarcerates only substance, the ethereal just drifts afar

Accept reality, not defeat, is what the astutest of sages told
For there’ll be battles galore, fight a battle worth the gold

In the battle for privacy and isolation, his true love did Shrek find
Irony of Ironies; beauty turned into a beast more beautiful, when broke the enchantment of the “fearful” kind

It’s sad we spend our lives caged in a box, which we ourselves did once create
So when you’ve had enough, just break free and trust the whimsical oddities of fate

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